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Medicaid Expansion: Senate Panel Passes Two Alternative Plans

Apr 17, 2013

State Sen. Joe Negron, author of a plan to cover more than 1 million Floridians with private health insurance, offered an amendment on Wednesday intended as an olive branch to the Florida House. 

Credit WUSF Public Media

His plan would still be mainly financed with billions of dollars in federal funds that have been made available to Florida, but it would put in some state dollars as well.

It would spend $20 million in state funds the first year to help the Healthy Kids program ramp up in preparation to enroll the uninsured who would be covered -- an estimated 450,000 the first year.

"This is a supreme example of a public-private partnership," said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood. "This is the best return on investment that Florida citizens can achieve."

"I would urge you to stand firm, because what you're doing is in the best interests of citizens of Florida," said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee. "Thank you for your courage."

But he also won plaudits from Republicans. Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, applauded Negron as well as  Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Jacksonville, who has a smaller alternative plan, for focusing on the big picture.  Lee said this is one of the most important issues of the year.

"It would be easy to throw in the towel right now," he said, given the House's stand against taking federal funds, "but I really appreciate your willingness to see this through."

Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said the plan is a "game-changer." He said it's more important to meet the needs of working uninsured citizens than to play politics, adding. "Can we be compassionate for our fellow citizens?"

SB 1815 passed just after noon by an overwhelming margin.

Next up was the plan by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Jacksonville. It would reject federal funds and put up $15 million in state funds to provide limited coverage for about 130,000.

Bean said his plan is needed because the House "hasn't shown an interest in taking federal funds."

He said he knew it wasn't perfect, but it might be the last hope, he said. "The choice is do we do something, or do we do nothing?"

"It seems to be cheaper, but that's because it doesn't do anything," said Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville. "It's like buying four flat tires and expecting the car to drive."

"It may send mixed message to send two bills out of here," cautioned Montford. "It's like trying to take two dates to the prom. Where I come from, you don't do that."

Bean asked fellow committee members to "take two dates to the prom." The committee adopted his plan, as well.

---Health News Florida is a service of WUSF Public Media.  Contact Editor Carol Gentry at (desk) 813-974-8629 or (cell) 727-410-3266 or by e-mail at cgentry@wusf.org. For more health news, visit HealthNewsFlorida.org.